Christina Hanson’s dramatic compositional piece uses a woodwind quintet to explore the story of Paul’s conversion found in Acts 9:1-9,17-22.
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1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. 3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. 7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. 8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. 19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. 20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. 21 But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? 22 But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
The story of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9 is a staple in most Christian households. Oftentimes believers miss the truly dramatic nature of the story. Saul “breathes murderous threats” to the believers, sees a vision only he can see that tells him to change the trajectory of his entire life, and ends up preaching to the world the very thing he persecuted so fiercely. In “Damascus Catalyst,” I let the text inspire the musical shape of the piece, beginning with the formation of Saul’s “murderous threats”, following his transformative journey on the road to Damascus, and ending with his proclamation of the Gospel.
This piece uses some contemporary compositional idioms but injects them into styles that are familiar to many, especially the style of hymns. I was inspired in part by two hymns, which can be heard fragmented throughout this piece: “Jesus Christ is Lord Today” (an obscure hymn tune I have only found in one hymnal but evertheless fell in love with) and “Christ be our Light” (a more modern Catholic hymn tune). By using these fragments as a backbone for the whole piece, Saul clearly appears as a character that transforms as the thematic material transforms.
The style of the piece is somewhat derived from musical theatre, using dramatic tension to tell a story. To this end, I was inspired by the versatility of the woodwind quintet—its ability to be as quiet as a small wisp of a thought, be as frightening as an unexpected vision, and to capture the jubilant cries of a recent believer as he proclaims his newfound beliefs. Loosely, Saul’s character is “played” by the horn, and you can hear his thought process rattling around in his head throughout the piece. By following the thread of the story from the beginning of Damascus Catalyst to the end, the listener can experience this vignette of Saul’s life—God’s presence, as a catalyst on the road to Damascus, transforming Saul from ruthless tyrant to relentless advocate of the Gospel.
Christina Lauren Hanson is a composer, music educator, pianist, violinist, student, accompanist, and entrepreneur based in Appleton, Wisconsin. She is currently a candidate for the Bachelor of Music degree in Composition at Lawrence University in Appleton and has studied under Joanne Metcalf, Asha Srinivasan, and Lawton Hall. Her compositional career began in at a very young age, and since then she has written pieces for a wide variety of instruments including piano, strings, and woodwinds. As she studies composition, she finds myriads of ways to showcase God’s beauty through the medium of music—a medium that has been used to worship God since the beginning of time!
Christina frequently performs with her string trio, The III of Us, and lends her talents as an accompanist, pianist, violinist, and leader for choirs and worship teams in the Fox Valley (including for Bended Knee Ministries and Lawrence Christian Fellowship). Currently, by teaching piano, violin, and music theory, writing music for commissions, using her entrepreneurial skills, and trusting God’s guidance, she is putting herself through college so she can further hone her compositional craft to glorify the Creator. In the future, she plans to keep exploring music as a channel to reach others for Christ not just through composition but also through teaching and performing.
When Christina is not doing any of the above, she enjoys the company of her many friends and comrades, taking care of plants on her family’s apple orchard (she has thriving succulent and vegetable gardens), drinking coffee and tea, reading, improvising on her grand piano, listening to Christian radio drama, swing dancing, and volunteering in the children’s ministry at her church.